CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) – At an important point in the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi, a missionary gave him a book that contained the four Gospels. This of course, was the Indian leader’s first exposure to Christianity. He read the Gospels with great interest, and was convinced that the principles taught by Jesus could resolve all of the political, social and economic problems of his country.
Gandhi had to travel throughout Western Europe in order to muster support for an independent India. Traveling through Christian countries, he was dismayed only to conclude that the Gospels are wonderful indeed, but he did not see anyone living their teaching. For this reason, Gandhi never converted to Christianity.
We are all called to be saints. Today’s Gospel passage reminds us of the program and lays out the path.
The Beatitudes contain the essence of the Christian way of life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: The beatitude we are promised confronts us with decisive moral choices. It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement – however beneficial it may be – such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love” (CCC # 1723).
The Beatitudes of the Gospel turn all worldly values upside down. The world pursues happiness in wealth, power, fame and disordered sexual pursuits; whereas the Gospel calls us to embrace and live values that are essentially different, in order to transform this world, and reveal the kingdom.
The Beatitudes challenge us to choose: to live Christianity or to live by the standards of the world. Do you want to give in to the demands of a worldly way of life, or have you decided to live true and authentic Christianity? The choice to live the Gospel changes our entire life. It tells us how we are to act, how we are to dress, how we are to speak and how we are to interact with people. The choice to live the Gospel confronts every aspect of our entire existence.
A number of years ago I was invited to give a retreat to a group of lay people in New York City. A seminarian graciously accompanied me in order to help with the practical details. Prior to the evening retreat, we had a number of appointments, and so that meant that we would have lunch in New York. The seminarian really enjoyed Asian cuisine, so I accommodated his palate by inviting him to lunch at a Korean restaurant.
As we went to our table, we were met by a Korean woman who graciously attended us with delicate courtesy. Having had many years of experience at my father’s restaurant, I was able to notice that her kindness, manners and spirit of service were far from ordinary.
Towards the end of the meal, another Korean woman finished waiting on our table. When we were ready, I asked her for the check. She then proceeded to tell me that there would be no charge for the lunch because the first waitress took care of the bill. I was very surprised and I asked her why she had decided to pay for our meal. “She is Christian,” was the unanticipated answer from the waitress.
“She is Christian,” meant that all the other waitresses were not Christian, and that all though encountering a free meal in the middle of downtown New York City surprised me, they were not surprised at all. They knew that this woman was different. Because of her Christianity, she was different.
The four beatitudes in Luke’s Gospel sum up the eight beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel. The shorter version in Luke’s Gospel is followed by four curses that underscore what happens to those who choose to live by the values of the world.
Let us for brevity sake, consider the four beatitudes in Luke’s Gospel.
“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” No matter how much or how little we possess, we are all called to recognize that everything we have comes from God. God is our Father and he will provide all of our needs. Creatures are simply stepping stones on the journey towards eternal life. This beatitude calls us to be totally detached from the things of this world and to seek our true happiness in God alone. However, at the same time, this beatitude also calls us to use our gifts, talents, resources and the things of this world to help all those who are in need and to create a better life for everyone.
“Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.” Most of us have never suffered from severe hunger or thirst. Most of us, despite the challenges of life, have never gone without a meal or never went without water. The hunger that Jesus refers to concerns the hunger for the transcendent. Secularism and materialism have deadened this natural desire for God. The desire for God is insatiable in this life and can only be satisfied completely in eternity.
“Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.” The Christian experience begins with the acknowledgment of our sinful condition. “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5: 8). Repentance allows us to experience true joy. The humble person acknowledges sin, converts and becomes the loving recipient of God’s mercy. No one can truly repent without true sorrow for sin.
“Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” Jesus knew that the life of the true Christian on earth would not be an easy one. The authentic Christian lives a life totally in contrast to those who live by the standards of the world. For the Christian, conflict will always be a normal way of life. It is amazing what millions of our brothers and sisters have suffered throughout the history of Christianity for their Lord and God.
In conclusion, the Beatitudes do not contain all of the teachings of the Gospel. However, they do contain the most essential aspects of Christian behavior that we need to live in order to reach Christian perfection. The Beatitudes of Jesus present to us an entirely new way of living our lives. Granted, this new way of life is challenging and difficult, nevertheless, he alone offers to us all of the spiritual means that we need in order to live them with conviction in our daily lives.